Brad McKinzie, a 30-year executive at Los Alamitos Race Course, a co-founder of the Finish Line Self Insurance Group, and one of the driving forces in bringing daytime Southern California Thoroughbred racing back to Los Alamitos Race Course, passed away from renal carcinoma Sunday afternoon. He was 62 years old.
McKinzie served as the vice president and general manager of the Los Alamitos Racing Association since 2014, overseeing the expansion of the Orange County oval from a five-furlong track to a one-mile oval, as well 700 additional stalls to accommodate Thoroughbreds following the closure of Hollywood Park. McKinzie and business partner Michael Lyon also started the Finish Line Self Insurance Group, which provides worker’s compensation coverage for the jockeys, exercise riders, and grooms for 99 percent of the California Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing industry. McKinzie was also part of the group that built and opened Sammy’s Original in February of 2014, an upscale restaurant in Lake Forest dedicated specifically for horse wagering. Sammy’s Original has since become a model for future mini-satellite developments.
“Brad was more than employee to me,” said Dr. Ed Allred, the owner of Los Alamitos Race Course. “He was close to me. We joked around a lot and some thought that he was my son. Brad had strong opinions and I’m known to be the same kind of a person. We didn’t agree on everything, but we always worked it out. He was my idea man and I relied on him a great deal. I fired him once from the general manager position, but I had him back working for me on another project the very next day. Our disagreements never affected our friendship. I had deep respect for him.
“He kept his illness private for months and always remained optimistic. From my limited experience in this area as a doctor, I knew that he was facing a difficult battle, but he always remained very positive. Brad was deeply spiritual and a devout Catholic. I am sure that helped him a lot in his final days. He meant so much to me.”
Born in San Francisco on Nov. 8, 1954, McKinzie grew up in Walnut Creek east of Berkeley, Calif. His family moved to Lakewood in Southern California in the early 1960s and would soon start accompanying his parents, Bill and Jean, on racetrack outings to nearby Los Alamitos Race Course. McKinzie became enamored with Quarter Horses and racing, and his love for the sport grew deeper as his parents became friends with trainers and jockeys at the track. As a teenager, McKinzie decided he wanted a taste of life at the Cypress track and went to work as a groom for trainer Barry Woodhouse. When it came time to attend college, McKinzie went to Cypress College before moving on to the University of Arizona in order to join the Race Track Industry Program. One of his classmates during that time was Bob Baffert and the two soon struck an everlasting friendship.
“I have about five people that I would say are very close friends, people that I can share with my most personal thoughts, and Brad is one of them,” said Baffert, the Triple Crown winning trainer and member of Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame. “My brothers and I met him in college and he became like a brother. My mother called Brad her fifth son, that’s how close we became. We came up together working at Rillito Track in Arizona. He’s the one that talked me into coming to Los Alamitos to train Quarter Horses in 1983. He’s just been a major part of my life. He’s Uncle Brad to all of my kids and has been with me through all my journeys. Brad has always been a giver and someone that takes care of everyone but himself. If he said he was doing something, just consider it done. He went through his illness in a very private manner. He didn’t want anyone to know that he was sick, he didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him.
“I feel privileged to be his friend and to know him so close,” Baffert added. “I have so many great memories of him, so many that we’ll be talking about him for years to come. He was smart and his humor was just something else. He would help me write my speeches. I don’t know who’ll do that now. He was so good for racing. He was so good for Los Alamitos Race Course. He was so instrumental in bringing Thoroughbred racing back to Los Al.”
After his time at the University of Arizona, McKinzie worked in the publicity department at Los Alamitos in 1977 before moving on to work in the media department at Hollywood Park in 1978. He would eventually return to his Los Alamitos roots and co-founded, along with Bruce Rimbo, the popular racing publication QuarterWeek Magazine from 1984 through 1999, where McKinzie’s “Nobody asked, but…” column became must-read copy thanks to his sharp wit and humor. While at QuarterWeek Magazine, McKinzie helped established and managed the Quarter Horse Breeders Classics program, patterned after the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The Quarter Horse Breeders Classics went on to produce some of the biggest single-night handle cards in the history of Los Alamitos Race Course, including the track’s first ever $2 million single night handle on Nov. 17, 1990. Hollywood Park and Sunland Park would also host runnings of the Quarter Horse Breeders Classics. In the early 1990s, McKinzie was named vice president and general manager of the Horsemen’s Quarter Horse Racing Association, which operated meets at Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos during that time, and eventually became the general manager of the Los Alamitos Quarter Horse Racing Association through 1994 and then a valued consultant.
“Brad has been a voice of reason for our sport for a long time,” said Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board and former president of Hollywood Park. “But more important, he will be remembered as a good and honest person who loved life and brought joy to all of us who were privileged to know him.”
A self-described “race track guy,” McKinzie also struck a great friendship with Blane Schvaneveldt, Quarter Horse racing’s legendary trainer and the all-time leading conditioner at Los Alamitos Race Course.
“Everywhere we went, Brad was there,” said Blane’s daughter, Shonna Smith Schvaneveldt, who also worked at QuarterWeek Magazine for 20 years. “Brad and my dad would argue back and forth all of the time on how the racetrack should be run. They ended up becoming great friends and Brad became a big part of our family. If there was anything that you needed, Brad was always there for you. When my dad was hospitalized in San Francisco during one Thanksgiving week, he took us all in to make sure we would be together. He could be stubborn at times, but he was a great guy and absolutely loved racing.”
When Los Alamitos established the Blane Schvaneveldt Handicap in honor of its greatest trainer, McKinzie partnered with Schvaneveldt on an Idaho-bred mare by the name of In Between Dreams with the hope that the legendary trainer would have an opportunity to win “his” race. In Between Dreams won the Schvaneveldt Handicap.
McKinzie’s tireless work in helping to establish The Finish Line Self Insurance Group, however, may be his most important accomplishments in racing.
“We started Finish Line on Nov. 27, 2005,” said Lyon. “And it will be Brad’s legacy to the horse racing industry.”
“He was so good with everyone on the backside,” Smith Schvaneveldt added. “He poured in countless of hours helping to put together the worker’s comp for Los Alamitos. He worked on that for months. I remember him saying at the time how tough it would be for trainers to survive if they couldn’t put something together. It was difficult, but they got it done.”
Brad McKinzie is survived by his mother, Jean, sister, Lisa, and brother, Mark. A memorial service will be held on Monday, Aug. 21, at noon at St. Hedwig Catholic Church in Los Alamitos. For more information call 714 820-2690 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.